Friday Rant: When equal isn’t equal edition

January 10

A little bit of a shell game has been going on, I think. It’s a clever, hard to spot switcheroo, which I guess is the very essence of a shell game. It’s been around awhile and it came up in comments here yesterday.

It’s regarding equality in America. It usuaually gets framed up in a very constructive sounding way. Like this: “Maybe we shouldn’t be focused so much on equality of outcome as equality of opportunity.” Sounds reasonable and fair, smart, even. Then the conversation launches immediately into education and skills development and all manner of positive, even progressive sounding things. Why, yes, let’s focus on equality of opportunity, we all nod. And yet.

What lurks not far below this formulation that doesn’t get discussed? Well, let me tell you. Potentially huge and growing inequality of outcome, is what. Just like we’re been getting, and then some. Just as a thought experiment, supposing there is a pot of gold, and everybody gets one equal raffle ticket to win it. Equality of opportunity! And then one person wins it, fair and square. And one person has all the gold and nobody else has any. Is that a desirable outcome? (And I leave aside whether in fact this ‘equality of opportunity’ itself is ever going to be seen hereabouts).

So yes, let’s talk about equality of opportunity, It’s a very American idea and a good one, but it doesn’t answer all the relevant issues. And in some ways, if we in fact are building a radically unequal society, it could merely be a distraction that allows the actual problem to go undiscussed, and unaddressed.

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog.
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